The beauty of pursuing a career in allied healthcare is that there is always something for everyone, regardless of skill, prior education, and disposition. Diagnostic medical sonography is perfect for those who would love to work in a challenging but dynamic environment with much room for specialization and growth.
Even though most people automatically associate sonographers, or ultrasound technicians, with pregnancies and fetal imaging, the field is much more expensive than this. Below, we look at everything you should know about pursuing a career in sonography, including job description, required skills, specialization, potential salary, and career outlook.
Who is a Sonographer?
Simply put, a sonographer is an expert/technician who obtains images of body parts through a sonography device. This device uses an ultrasound transducer to send sound waves to body parts, which are then interpreted and converted to images by the ultrasound machine.
In addition to this, sonographers are also responsible for making sure the ultrasound machines are in optimal condition whenever they are needed.
However, a sonographer’s job is more comprehensive than machine operation and maintenance. On the human relations side, they also prepare patients for imaging while reporting relevant patient history and condition to the doctor.
Lastly, to begin the imaging process, a sonographer must apply conductive gel to the patient’s skin and operate the transducer, which sends sound waves from the ultrasound to the body’s area needing imaging.
Who is a Diagnostic Medical Sonographer?
There are quite a few areas of specialization in sonography. Diagnostic medical sonography is one such area that has a few more subcategories.
Common specialization alternatives for diagnostic medical sonographers include:
- Abdominal sonography
- Breast sonography
- Pediatric sonography
- Obstetrics and Gynecology
- Cardiac sonography
- Musculoskeletal sonography
- Vascular technology
It is also possible for a sonographer to deal with general sonography with imaging experience in several areas.
Roles and Responsibilities
Regardless of the area in which a diagnostic medical sonographer specializes, all professionals in the field share some specific roles and responsibilities.
- Going through the patient’s medical history
- Explaining the imaging procedure to patients
- Guiding patients through the process by reassuring them and answering whatever questions they have about the procedure
- Operating the sonography device
- Reviewing image results to ensure quality and extensive coverage
- Redoing the procedure to obtain maximum results and high-quality images
- Recording diagnostic results on patient records
- Maintaining the ultrasound machine, transducers, and other related equipment
Why Become a Diagnostic Medical Sonographer
A career in Diagnostic Medical Sonography is advisable for a handful of reasons. For one, it requires only a short degree program with a 2-year associate of science degree, often enough in most cases.
Secondly, the average salary for ultrasound technicians is usually among the highest for that degree category, while the job market and career outlook are also among the most promising over the next decade.
Just like with any profession, there are specific skills a diagnostic medical sonographer must have for optimal performance. These include “hard skills,” such as hand-eye coordination, agility, comprehensive knowledge of anatomy and physiology, ability to push, pull and lift, and “soft skills” such as empathy, compassion, listening and communication skills, teamwork, and the ability to stay calm and composed under pressure.
Paths to Becoming a Diagnostic Medical Sonographer
The path to becoming a Diagnostic Medical Sonographer includes getting a degree and getting certified. Certain states like New Hampshire, New Mexico, and Oregon also mandate licensing laws for sonographers.
Getting a Degree
The first step to becoming a sonographer is to obtain a degree. Thankfully, there is more than one option in this regard.
Certificate programs take between twelve (12) and eighteen (18) months. They are designed for those who already work in healthcare-related fields or have already completed some form of higher education.
For those without prior higher education or experience in the healthcare field, an associate degree is the minimum requirement to become a practicing sonographer. Programs take two years of full-time study.
Associate degrees must be accredited through CAAHEP - The Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs.
Bachelor’s Degree programs take four (4) years and give students a Bachelor of Science in diagnostic medical sonography. For an easier path to certification, you should also ensure that your Bachelor’s Degree is accredited.
After obtaining a degree, the next step to becoming an ultrasound technician is to become certified. Attending a CAAHEP-certified institution and program should make this step pretty straightforward.
The American Registry administers the most common certification exam for diagnostic medical sonography (ARDMS) and is a mandatory requirement by almost all employers.
Average Salary For Diagnostic Medical Sonographers
According to The Bureau of Labor Statistics, diagnostic medical sonographers earn an annual median wage of $75,920. The lower 10% of professionals in the field make up to $59,000 a year, while the top 10% earn more than $100,000.
Like most professions, factors such as education, work experience, and location all play a massive role in what salary percentile a sonographer falls into.
The job outlook for diagnostic medical sonographers is quite impressive. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that there will be a 19% growth in demand for ultrasound technicians between 2020 and 2030.
The number equates to an additional 14,000 jobs being created in the field.
This not only indicates a high level of job safety for those already in the profession but also encourages those looking to get in. Reasons for the positive outlook include the replacement of older generations of sonographers and advancing imaging technology.
It is common for diagnostic medical sonographers to work full-time in hospitals. Many also work in physician offices or medical and diagnostic imaging centers.
Data shows that of about 75,000 ultrasound technicians, 60% work in hospitals, 20% work in physician offices, 11% work in diagnostic laboratories, and 4% work in outpatient care centers.